The kneehole dressing-table or writing-table is one of a group of related examples which were made in the East Indian port of Vizagapatam around 1740-50. The earliest of these is apparently that which was acquired by Richard Benyon, Governor of Fort St. George (Madras) from 1734-44, and thus a successor to Edward Harrison in that post. This is now at Engelfield House, Berkshire. It features a combination of rosewood with wide ebony borders, the dense ivory inlay of trailing small flowers confined to the borders, a characteristic identified by Amin Jaffer as indicating a date on manufacture in the first quarter of the 18th century. It is also distinguished by incorporating a superstructure with a mirror, possibly a unique feature (see Amin Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon, London, 2001, p.182).
Another dressing-table which was acquired by Robert Clive (d.1774) is now at Powis Castle, Powys. Clive served a number of terms in India, first travelling to Madras in 1744 as a writer or clerk in the East India Company though distinguishing himself in military actions, and then serving in Bombay (1755-60) and Bengal (1765-67). The dressing- table, with a closely matching though not integral toilet-glass, must have been acquired in his first or second term of service since it is recorded that the feet were replaced by the London cabinet-maker George Bradshaw in 1761. In common with other examples from this slightly later group, the table is made of only one primary timber, the ebony borders no longer present, and the marquetry is more painterly, featuring large leaves and oversized tulip-like flowers tied with ribbons at the corners, in addition to the dense small flowers of the Benyon table. While the superb Clive table features a curved arched kneehole, others, like the present lot, have a rectangular kneehole with a sliding compartment of pigeon-holes and drawers suggesting a dual purpose.
Other closely related writing and dressing-tables include: one sold Sotheby's, New York, Property from the Collection of Lily and Edmond J. Safra, 3 November 2005, lot 144 ($828,000 including premium). Executed in padouk rather than rosewood, it features almost identical marquetry with large flowers and tied ribbons to the corners. It was acquired from Mallet & Son in 2002 and was illustrated in Lanto Synge, Mallets Great English Furniture, 1991, p. 184, fig. 210.
Another made in rosewood and with virtually identical marquetry was exhibited by Lennox Money Antiques, London, at the Grosvenor House Antique Dealers Fair, 1977. This was given by Warren Hastings, a senior representative of the East India Company at Fort St.George (1768-72) and Governor of Bengal (1772-85), to his goddaughter Amelia Maria Alt on her marriage to George Elwes of Marcham Park, Berks, 1789.
Another sold Sotheby's, London, The Property of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Cotton, 14 November 1975, lot 68 (£2,400).
All three above feature a sliding compartment to the kneehole with the same arrangement of drawers and pigeon-holes.